Oxford University, in an unprecedented rebuff, plunged into the national controversy over Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's tight-fisted economics today by voting down an honorary degree for her.
The 738-319 vote by Oxford's parliament of professors, tutors, fellows and administrators makes Thatcher the first Oxford-educated prime minister in postwar years to be refused an honorary degree.
Thatcher's office replied coldly that she was honored that the university where she once studied chemistry had considered her for the degree in civil law, but that "if they don't wish to confer the honor, she is the last person to wish to receive it."
The vote on honorary degrees is usually a formality attended by only a handful of dons, members of the teaching staff. But Thatcher's case attracted almost half the eligible voters to the university's Sheldonian Theater, and the lopsided vote registered the academic world's anger that Thatcher's budget-cutting had hit government-funded research.
After the vote, Peter Pulzer, a professor of government who led the anti-Thatcher campaign, told reporters: "We have been polite for 5 1/2 years and nobody has taken any notice of us. I think if talking gets you nowhere there are times when you have to shout, and that's what we've done today."
But Nicholas Shrimpton, a pro-Thatcher don, said withholding the degree was "a futile, painless and self-congratulatory gesture."
He added, "This lady is not for spurning."